Before shipping out to Afghanistan, the U.S. Army and members of the Indiana National Guard have been training inside a simulated Afghan village—using what the New York Times describes as a “vaguely foreboding institution that once served as a farm colony for ‘feeble-minded’ boys, and later was a state mental hospital.”
The Army and the Indiana National Guard have turned the windswept complex, known as Muscatatuck, into a simulacrum of a war-torn Afghan city, with a courthouse, a jail and a graffiti-smeared marketplace. While the table-flat farmland around here hardly evokes the Hindu Kush, this is where the government trains Americans who are part of the most ambitious civilian campaign the United States has mounted in a foreign country in generations—a “civilian surge” intended to improve the lives of Afghans.
The facility’s own website enumerates its architectural benefits, as it comes complete with “1,000 Acres, 70 Buildings, 2,000+ Rooms, (…) 9 Buildings with basements, [and] One mile of tunnels.”
This is, of course, only the most recent example of these sorts of facilities to receive media attention; it is but one part of the massive network of militarized simulations that have been built throughout the United States since 9/11 (and these facilities, of course, are themselves nothing new nor are they unique to the United States: there are historical precedents dating back millennia, as any competent military since the dawn of invasion has simulated its spatial tactics in advance). One such facility even hired actor Carl Weathers, of Apollo Creed fame, to serve as an “acting coach” for the simulated insurgents.
But the passage of U.S. Army trainees through a repurposed mental hospital—in fact, “a farm colony for ‘feeble-minded’ boys”—with the implication that this will help to prepare them for the violence of foreign wars, is extraordinary.